Frustration is a powerful emotion. So are anger, fear and trust. But sometimes, frustration, fear and anger can get in the way of creating lasting solutions. That’s why The Bee cannot quite get behind Measure G – as much as we’d like to.
We understand the frustration of Modesto police Chief Galen Carroll, whom we trust as a top-notch cop. He manages a department with nearly 30 percent fewer officers than recommended for a city of 209,000.
We are angry that thieves have created a climate in which citizens don’t feel secure in their homes.
With violent crime spiking, how long before we fear simply walking Modesto’s streets?
Finally, it’s tragic that Modesto could break its record for homicides in a year – even though five occurred in one inconceivable incident.
Modesto’s public safety crisis is clear and urgent. Anyone who cares about the city recognizes something must be done. Unfortunately, there is no consensus around what that something must be.
Mayor Garrad Marsh, Chief Carroll, City Manager Jim Holgersson and others are pushing Measure G, a sales tax increase netting $14 million annually for the general fund that officials promise would be earmarked for public safety. The 0.5 percentage point bump to a total tax of 8.125 percent, is not unbearable for most residents – adding a nickel to a $10 purchase.
Through the Safer Neighborhoods Initiative, Holgersson and Carroll have laid out specific goals and approaches: getting Modesto’s police force up to state staffing averages (1.4 officers per 1,000 residents), cutting emergency response times, reactivating crime-fighting units such as gang suppression and auto theft, and, perhaps most important, creating a presence in every neighborhood to partner with police and build a foundation for ongoing improvements.
We understand the city’s need for flexibility in spending the money – allowing support of code enforcement, for instance, to get squatters out of abandoned buildings. And we applaud Holgersson and Carroll’s promise that the Safer Neighborhoods Initiative will be implemented whether G passes or not.
What bothers us about Measure G is that so many who should support it, and who would be involved in its oversight, are rejecting the measure. The council split 5-2 in putting Measure G on the ballot, and some set aside personal objections in favor of giving voters a say.
Of 13 candidates for City Council and mayor, nine oppose Measure G. The new council will be split on this issue, and it’s possible a majority could oppose it. Those most likely to benefit – public safety unions – are sitting out this campaign, even endorsing some candidates who oppose the tax.
Voters in 2013 rejected the similar Measure X, many saying they didn’t trust the city to spend the money as promised. Measure G also requires only a simple majority to pass.
Until the trust factor is addressed, it’s doubtful anything will pass.
That’s why it’s encouraging to see the city addressing this crucial issue. City officials said at a Safer Neighborhoods workshop last week that the Measure G oversight committee will be doing more than just counting dollars. Whether or not G passes, the city expects the committee to remain intact and provide a crucial feedback loop for implementing programs.
Promising to start working on the plan – win or lose – lays the foundation for progress and begins the process of rebuilding trust in city promises.
More must be done. The very first order of business for the new council should be devising a plan that more can embrace. Start with the neighborhoods, but include police officers and firefighters. And invite members of the Stanislaus Taxpayers Association, whose president says the group would not oppose a better-structured initiative.
In rejecting Measure G, we recognize something must be done to make Modesto safer, and it’s going to be up to the new council to start doing it. Any delay will be counted as a failure of policy, personalities and politics. No excuses, no finger pointing, no waffling. Until consensus is reached on how to achieve these goals, Modesto will never become a safer city.